When the building of this residence was begun in 1799, with workmen making all of its bricks on the spot, there was no state of Illinois. Cahokia, a thriving French town of log and frame houses, was then in the Northwest Territory, a territory established by the newly formed American republic. By the time the mansion was completed in 1806, the Illinois country was part of Indiana Territory. Later, when it became a state one of the numerous receptions to the first chief executive, Governor Shadrach Bond, was held in the Jarrot Mansion. A frequent visitor here before that time, and of afterward, was Ninian Edwards, governor of Illinois Territory, and the state's first United States senator.
A native of Vesoul, France, where he was born in 1764, Nicholas Jarrot came to America in 1790, landing at Baltimore. After visiting New Orleans, he journeyed up the Mississippi River to the French settlements in Illinois. He purchased land at Cahokia in 1793, and four years later married Julia Beauvais (his second wife), daughter of a wealthy resident of Ste. Genevieve, across the Mississippi in Missouri.
When the Jarrot Mansion was completed, it became the most admired dwelling in the region. Here, six Jarrot children were born and reared. One of them, Vital Jarrot, served in the Black Hawk War, was elected to the General Assembly, became part owner of the first railroad in Illinois, and established the first newspaper in East St. Louis.
In the ballroom on the second floor of the Jarrot Mansion was held the first school in Cahokia. This was in 1809 when Jarrot persuaded a lawyer from Kentucky, Samuel Davidson, to give up his practice and become a schoolmaster, at a salary of $400 a year.
Living almost next door to the Church of the Holy Family, the Jarrots were a devout couple and always the led the family procession to mass on Sundays and holy days. They were also a generous and hospitable couple, and balls, receptions, and dinners were frequent in their stately brick mansion. Here Nicholas Jarrot continued to live until his death in 1820.
During the great Mississippi River flood of 1844, Mme. Jarrot and her family went to and from their home in skiffs, tying the boats to the railing of the stairway in the central reception hall.
Although Cahokia declined rapidly with the rise of St. Louis and East St. Louis, the widowed Mme. Jarrot remained in her mansion for many years. But she left it finally and died in East St. Louis in 1875 at the age of ninety-five.
Her daughter, Mrs. James L. Brackett, occupied the historic dwelling until her own death in 1886. Afterward, the house was occupied by nuns of the near-by Church of the Holy Family, a church which grew out of the first mission founded at Cahokia in 1699.
The mansion is one of the few landmarks left in old Cahokia — which now is but a filling-station hamlet just south of East St. Louis. Despite its great age and the disturbances of earthquakes and floods, the house is in sound condition. On its rear wall can be seen a crack — a memento of the 1811 earthquake.
It is a two‑story abode of red brick, designed in the Georgian Colonial style which is evident in the white columns of the portico and in the fan-light over the paneled walnut door.
In many of the windows one can see the original hand-pressed panes imported from France. The gabled roof is covered with modern tiles. The foundation walls, composed of rough stone blocks, are two feet thick. One portion of the dark, stone-paved basement was used as a wine cellar and storage room, and another, containing a large crude fireplace, was evidently the kitchen where the Negroes did the family cooking.
Free PDF books in my Digital Research Library of Illinois History®
- "Old Illinois Houses" by John Drury, published 1948
- The Jarrot Mansion is Illinois' Oldest Brick House. The Original 1806 Blueprints.
Compiled by Neil Gale, Ph.D.